John Laroche and Gloria Hassemer
John Laroche, 62, and Gloria Hassemer, who was murdered in 1995 at age 41.
(From Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office)
Civic Life

Man charged in 1995 Watsonville murder. ‘All we can hope is he’s held accountable,’ victim’s daughter says

John Laroche was arrested this week in the 25-year-old murder of Gloria Hassemer. “All we can hope for is that he’s held accountable for his actions and that he doesn’t hurt another soul,” the victim’s daughter says.

A 25-year search to find the suspect who bludgeoned a single mom to death in Watsonville with a 35-pound rock ended this week with authorities accusing a 62-year-old registered sex offender with the crime.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday that its detectives — with help from police in Turlock, in Stanislaus County — arrested John Laroche at his home near Turlock for the 1995 murder of 41-year-old Gloria Hassemer.

Authorities said only that “forensic evidence was found linking Laroche” to Hassemer’s death. He was arrested Thursday and will appear in court in Santa Cruz on Monday.

“I honestly feel like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders feeling that he’s off the street,” said Niya Frisby, Hassemer’s daughter, who was 14 at the time of her mother’s killing. “The truth is I’ve never healed. I’ve never healed and I will never heal from this. This is something that one can’t heal from.

“There’ll never be closure. All we can hope for is that he’s held accountable for his actions and that he doesn’t hurt another soul.”

Hassemer’s body was found on June 10, 1995, along the Pajaro River levee near the Highway 1 overpass. Before that, she had last been seen walking on Water Street near Ocean Street in Santa Cruz. Officials believe she might have hitchhiked from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, where her body was found.

Shortly after the killing, investigators arrested her boyfriend, a 22-year-old Watsonville man, but a judge found there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him, putting the case in the hands of cold-case detectives.

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For 25 years, the sheriff’s office said in a statement it worked “tirelessly on this case in hopes of bringing closure to Gloria’s family and to hold the suspect accountable.”

Indeed, as recently as Nov. 18, the sheriff’s office posted an appeal on social media asking for tips in Hassemer’s case.

“This murder shook our community back in 1995, and our detectives have been committed to making an arrest since. We’ve seen the heartbreak it’s brought to Gloria’s loved ones and we are proud to be taking this step towards justice,” Sheriff Jim Hart said.

Gloria Hassemer - provided
Gloria Hassemer, who was found dead in Watsonville in 1995. Police arrested 63-year-old John Laroche on Dec. 3, 2020, in connection with the killing.
(Provided by Hassemer Family. )

Frisby, Hassemer’s daughter, and her brother, Richard, both were teens when their mom was killed.

“She was a beautiful soul, and she was caring and she was amazing,” Frisby said. “He took a beautiful, beautiful soul, and he has no idea how this has impacted my family.

“Every day, she’s part of my life. Every time a song comes on that reminds me of her, I talk to her. . . . And this whole situation, it’s like it happened yesterday. And that’s never gonna change.”

Laroche is being held without bail at the Santa Cruz County jails. Court records show he faces three charges in this case — first-degree murder, battery with serious bodily injury and violation of parole. His arraignment is set for 8:15 a.m. Monday.

The sheriff’s office says Laroche has connections to Santa Clara County and the Central Valley and that, based on his criminal history, there might be other victims of his crimes.

Laroche, records show, is listed on the state’ sex offender registry as being convicted of a sex crime with a minor under age 14.